Life includes pain. About this we have no choice, it comes with the territory. What we do have choice around is how much we suffer. Life is full of ups and downs, but feeling wounded occasionally doesn't necessarily indicate that we're doing anything wrong. Sometimes wrongs can be addressed, sometimes we can actually fix a situation, and sometimes, especially when it is part of a far off past, forgiveness might be the easiest way out of that kind of inner pain that grows like yeast inside of us, that pain that we can't seem to fix, finish or move past.
Forgiveness allows us to be in charge of our own experience rather than being tossed around by another's actions. It lets us find our own balance rather than being pulled into a reaction that we may not want to be tied into emotionally, psychologically or even spiritually. Sometimes forgiveness is that "get out of jail free" card, the one that let's us leave a bad action where it belongs, with the one who did it, or with the situation that fomented it. Or forgiveness can be that magical elixir that allows us to go on loving even though we've experienced pain as part of our relationship, because what we hold onto holds onto us. It takes up space inside of us and absorbs energy that we could be using for joyful, productive living.
Most of us think of forgiveness as a gift that we give to another person. But first and foremost, forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. Daily, we read a new research study on the cost of stress, anger and withheld emotion to our bodies and our minds. Our immune systems are compromised when we are under internal stress; our body pumps out stress-related chemicals that do everything from thin our hair to cause us to put on weight. When we hold on too hard to past hurts, we relive them as if they were happening over and over again. And our bodies can't always tell the difference between then and now; we tighten up and rev up for a fight just as if that situation we can't let go of were happening all over again, right now! We create our own little pressure cooker right inside of ourselves. In short, we suffer more than the other guy when we can't work through and release intense, stored emotion. And the same phenomenon can be at work if it's ourselves we're angry at, in fact forgiving ourselves for something we feel bad about can be harder than forgiving another person.
Forgiveness Is a Process, Not an Event
Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It takes work, it takes time. And it doesn't happen all at once nor does it happen completely, at least for a while. It has stages, and there can be many roadblocks along the way. People, in my experience, struggle with a few myths when it comes to forgiveness, some of them are:
• If I forgive, my relationship with the person I'm forgiving will definitely improve.
• If I forgive, it means I want to continue to have a relationship with the person I'm forgiving.
• If I forgive, it means I'm condoning the behavior of the person I'm forgiving.
• If I haven't forgotten, I haven't really forgiven.
• I only need to forgive once.
• I forgive for the sake of the other person.
• If I forgive, I'll never again feel angry at that person for what happened.
• If I forgive myself I'll be more likely to do it again.
• Forgiving myself is wrong or selfish.
Forgiveness Is a Verb
In my clinical experience, I observe that clients move through stages as they "forgive" much like with a grief process.Though forgiveness can have religious overtones, most people experience what we are calling forgiveness as a sort of letting go; as they work through the feelings that block their ability to forgive, they feel less preoccupied and resentful and experience a greater sense of freed up energy to use as they wish. Much of their gain is in this working through, as they make it a goal to work through the anger and resentment that is preoccupying them inwardly, forgiveness becomes a sort of by product of the process. Here are the stages most commonly experienced.
- Waking Up (something is blocking us from feeling at peace)
- Anger and Resentment (These feelings press on our inner world)
- Sadness and Hurt (feelings that can make us feel vulnerable or lost),
- Integration (when we feel what's really going on, understand and integrate rather than stay stuck),
- Reinvestment (when we reinvest our freed up energy by choice).
However we choose to forgive, whether we see it as a letting go process, a working through of held resentments or an act of forgiveness, the "process" heads us in a self affirming direction. The decision to forgive implies that "I am valuing my own peace of mind more than a grudge." Step by step, piece by piece, we feel lighter inside, less confused and tangled in our own web of negative feelings. And in forgiving someone else, we find, mysteriously that we may even be letting go of a piece of the puzzle, of the dynamic, that we were holding against or within ourselves. Having freed up energy is perhaps the most valuable and immediately noticeable outcome of working through this process. Being able to use our energy rather than feeling trapped by our own, unprocessed emotions, gives us a lightness in our step and an ability to move forward in self affirming ways, our energy is our own to use as we please. Below is a link for my book Forgiving and Moving On, now a daily affirmations app... a step by step process of plowing through the feelings on the path of forgiveness.
For more by Dr. Tian Dayton, click here.
For more on forgiveness, click here.